Garden Related Activities


The weather has definitely turned its thoughts to winter here in New England. Snow and ice have blanketed our landscapes several times already and it will be months before most plants are actively growing, putting out flowers to attract pollinators.

Honey bees, Apis mellifera, are clustered in their nests or man-made hives for the winter. Unfortunately, during prolonged cold spells, many bees may die off. If the nest has enough stored pollen and honey then the queen may begin to lay small numbers of eggs early in the new year to help the population recover. Once fresh sources of food are available in early spring brood rearing can begin in earnest. Early spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, lilac, and witch hazel and perennials like bloodroot, trillium, and Lenten rose are great plants to have in your yard as early sources of nectar. Additional early-flowering perennials can be found at our fact sheet Perennials. Clockwise from the upper left are witch hazel, Lenten rose, and lilac.

In April, a colony will be able to collect enough pollen and nectar to begin honey production. Commercial hives world-wide produced over 4 billion pounds of honey in 2017. The chances are pretty good that you consumed some honey last year, either as a sweetener in a beverage, in cooking or baking, or on bread or toast. A trip to a grocery store or a farmer’s market provides so many choices, from locally-sourced, single-origin honey to trendy products such as Mānuka honey, a honey that is sourced from the Mānuka tree that is native to Australia and New Zealand, or ‘prebiotic’ honey. All honey has prebiotic and antibacterial properties, even if it isn’t marketed that way. Raw and organic honey are also available. These products are usually not as clear as commercial pasteurized honey.

Also available in many stores is honeycomb. Honeycomb, or comb honey, consists of the hexagonal wax cells that are constructed by bees to contain larvae and the honey to feed them. This form of honey is not generally used in cooking or beverages. It is more of a novelty, a point of interest on a breakfast table, to be spread on bread or toast. During honey production when the honey is spun out of the comb by a centrifuge the wax cells may remain stable enough to be returned to the hive intact. Returning the wax cells to the hive allows the bees to expend less energy creating the structures as manipulate the wax. They need to consume more than 8 pounds of honey to make one pound of wax.

Humans have gathered honey since ancient times and began fermenting it more than 9,000 years ago in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Mead, also known as honey-wine, is a fermented beverage that at its simplest is made from honey, water, and yeast. Around the world it has more than 4 dozen names based on the local language or the variants that are used in its production. These can include the addition of fruits, herbs, and spices. My son Luke began the process of mead fermentation back in April so that he would have a special gift for the groomsmen at his wedding this past October.

In a simple yet multi-step process, honey is dissolved in just-boiled water and then additional cool filtered water is added to bring the temperature to a level in which yeast can thrive. The yeast that may be used is similar to brewer’s, winemaker’s or baking yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

 

Some other equipment that is helpful are a hydrometer, to measure the alcohol content, and an airlock for the neck of the container, to allow gas to escape but keep bad bacteria from contaminating the ‘must’, another name for the honey mixture.

Once this is set up the must needs to ferment for at least a month. As this happens you can see the fermentation actively happening as gas bubbles continually rise to the surface.

6-fermentation bubbles

The mead is ‘racked’ to smaller, airlocked containers so that any sediment remains in the initial container. Another month of fermentation and then it is ready to bottle and cork. Butterfly-pea blossom petals, from the flower butterfly-pea, Clitoria ternatea, added during the second fermentation turns the liquid a lovely shade of purple.

Speaking of weddings, bees also made an appearance at the ‘Flower Power’ bridal shower for our future daughter-in-law Jamie in the form of cookies and decorations.

The popularity of bees is evident in their presence of many household goods, from shower curtains and towels to honey pots and pictures. They even made an appearance on Jamie’s birthday cake recently!

It is easy to say that 2019 was the Year of the Bee for our family. Those little pollinators made their presence felt in many of our celebrations and in all of our gardens as they went from blossom to blossom, fertilizing fruits and vegetables that we would enjoy long into the new year.

Susan Pelton, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

Although winter officially started only a few days ago, the wet, rainy, snowy, and icy weather we’ve had over the past several weeks has put me into a bit of a funk. Don’t get me wrong: I am a Chicago native and have lived in New England for five years. I am well accustomed to a seemingly endless winter. But I think we can all agree that during a period of freezing, thawing, and mixed precipitation, the New England landscape leaves something to be imagined. Mud and dried grass muck up yards, bare deciduous trees leave our forests looking sparse, and the sky often remains one shade of gray. With only a few colors in the New England winter color wheel, I find myself dreaming of something decidedly more…green.

winter tree upright

Photo by Abby Beissinger

To help get myself out of this funk, I find myself thinking about planning the upcoming season’s garden. Usually December is too soon for me to start, but a recent post by University of Rhode Island Extension got me excited to plan early this year. In collaboration with Ocean State Job Lot, Burpee, and URI Master Gardeners, URI receives an annual donation of expired and unsold seed packs that they offer up to individuals, non-profits, schools, and more, to those living in New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

URI Free Seeds

The stock of free seeds include a large variety of herbs, flowers, and vegetables—you just pay the cost of shipping ($0.25 per seed packet). To learn more about the free seed program, click here, and for the order form click here. All orders must be received by January 13th, 2020, and URI Master Gardeners will fill orders on a first-come, first-served basis.

A few things to consider once you receive your seeds:

  1. While early garden planning is fun, planting your seeds too early will leave your seedlings leggy and weak. They will be unlikely to rebound and recover when the time comes to plant seedlings outside. Pay close attention to your seed packet on when it recommends starting seeds inside based on your location’s last frost. You may find this planting calendar handy when selecting the date to start seeds inside.

Seed Packet

Photo adapted from Gardenerspath.com

  1. Since you won’t be planting your seeds for at least a few months, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator to increase their shelf life. Check out this Lady Bug article for more seed storage tips.

seed jar

Photo by Tenth Acre Farm

  1. When it is time to seed, select trays or containers that are 2-3 inches deep and have a drainage hole to allow for excess water to move through. If you plan to reuse containers from a previous season, make sure to sanitize them in a 1:10 dilute bleach solution to prevent the spread of disease causing agents (pathogens).

seed tray

Photo by DIY.com

  1. Select a soil-less media made for seed starting—not your average potting mix or soil from your backyard. The seed starting mix usually contains a combination of peat moss, vermiculite, and some fertilizers that provide ideal conditions for seed germination.

 

  1. Without adequate light, robust seedlings can be difficult to produce. Supplemental light is often needed. Refer to this fact sheet for more indoor seed growing tips and suggestions for lighting setups.

lighting setup

Photo by Thea & Bob Fry

 

Hopefully these free seeds will perk up those winter blues, and have you thinking about planning your 2020 garden early too.

 

–Abby Beissinger

mouse in seed pail

Mouse feasting in bucket of stored grass seed. P.Cooper photo.

Mice are seeking places to spend the winter and actively moving from outdoors to just about any protected area, including our homes, garages, shed and cars. They need shelter from the wet and cold weather like us and prefer to take advantage of areas humans have already created. Any dry and relative warm spot with access to food or an area to store scavenged food will do nicely. Car engines are another favorite nesting spot as they are sometimes warm and provide great protections from predators and weather. Mice will chew on wiring and filters under the hood causing considerable damage and cost for repairs.

House mice can live outdoors in good weather, but some will live in houses year round. They can have 8 litters of young per year with 5 to 6 babies each time. That is a lot of mice! Nests are usually made with 3o feet of a food source to keep the mother in close range with her young. Most often mice are active during the night.

mice in bird house must be evicted when old enough

Mouse family nesting in a birdhouse.

First line of defense to keep mice out of houses is to be preventive by sealing up or blocking points of entry. Seal cracks and crevices with spray foam around foundation where the sill plate attaches the frame of the home. Make sure doors and windows fit properly and use weather stripping. Mice can flatten their skeleton and cartilage to fit through a ¼ inch gap. They commonly squeeze through small gaps around wires and pipes entering the home. Mice are great climbers of trees and sides of buildings to gain access to attics and wall spaces. Trim overhanging tree branches, and prune back foundation planting from touching the house. Keep grass, brush and vegetation away from foundation. Inside the home, eliminate clutter which serves as hiding spots and nesting material. Attic and dryer vents can be covered with hardware cloth and caulk the edges.

Eliminate food sources for mice. If you are feeding the birds, you are also feeding the mice. Spilled seed on the ground attracts mice and other animals closer to the house. Cat and dog food left out all day in a dish for on demand feeding for your pet offers mice an anytime buffet, too. Store dry animal food, including dog biscuits in a hard, metal container.  Mice can chew through very hard plastic containers with their gnawing teeth.

Repellents are available which claim to keep mice away. One type emits a high-frequency sound humans are not likely to detect but animals do not like. Caution should be used as pets may not like either. Some versions are made for use under car hoods to keep mice out of engines. Scented mouse repellents are available containing various mixtures of peppermint, cloves, hot pepper capsaicin. Planting mint around the foundation is reported to work as a deterrent. Some folks claim mothballs will repel mice, but this is not a legal use of the product, and in practice mice have been known to relocate the stinky orbs out of their area.

Mouse control will be needed if your find activity or signs of mice inside the home. Sometimes you can hear them chewing on the wooden structure making up the house. Finding the tell-tale black droppings which look like a small grain of rice, only black, is means for action in that area.

mouse trap

Mouse trap places with the snap end against wall.

Control options are traps or poisons. Traps should be placed where you find the droppings. Mice prefer to run along the edge of the wall rather than out on the open floor. Place set traps butted up against a wall. Peanut butter is a great bait to use to attract them to the trap. There are many different traps on the market from the old-fashioned wooden base snap traps to battery operated traps with a metal plate which electrocutes the mice. I saw a new one which uses a funnel system and extremely small and strong rubber bands which snaps over their head causing a quick a death. There are also humane live traps where the mouse enters, the door closes behind it, and then you take the trap and mouse outside to release it still alive, just take it far away from your house.

Poisons are rodenticides regulated by the federal government. Always read and follow label directions. Mouse poisons can affect other non-target animals by directly eating the poison, or up the food chain if another animal or bird eats a mouse that ate the poison.  Also mice do not always leave the building after ingesting the poison, sometimes dying in the walls creating an odor as they decompose in an inaccessible site. Insects can find the carcass to assist in the decomposition process which brings another problem of bugs or flies into the home. Once the dead animal is completely decomposed, odor and insects should go away.

-Carol Quish

cobrahead weeder and red gloves

It is harvest time in the vegetable garden, doing end of season gathering of squash this week. The vines of the honeynut butternut and spaghetti squash have all withered and dried signaling the squashes are ready to be picked. Once the color deepens and skins toughen the fruit should be cut from the vines and cleaned up. I wash them in a slight bleach solution to remove any fungi and bacteria that might cause rot once they are placed in storage in my cool hatchway to the basement where they will not freeze. Wrapping each in a sheet of newspaper to keep them from touching is an added measure to help retard decomposition.

Squash harvest 2019

Back in the garden I pulled all of the vines to add to the compost or burn any diseased plant remains. Insect problems from this year might over winter in the plant debris so cleaning up the beds is recommended. While I am there, I scrape the soil with my 20 year old CobraHead hand-weeder, my favorite tool. When held horizontally it only disturbs the top inch or so of soil while I remove any weeds without bringing up many weed seeds from deeper in the soil which might germinate next year. Even though I am only disturbing shallow depths of the ground, some insects come crawling, wiggling and moving out of what they thought was a safe place to spend the winter. It is amazing to sit on my little garden stool and watch the life emerge from what at first glance, appears to be lifeless or dormant.

cobrahead weeder

First to emerge from the soil was a crazy snake worm, (Amynthas agrestis). They are an invasive species from distant lands of Korea and Japan, and do not belong in my New England garden. They move in an ‘S’ pattern and rather quickly, but they are no match for my fast, gloved hand to grab and toss into a repurposed ricotta container rescued from the recycle bin to live another life as a worm container of death. A few more swipes of the CobraHead and several more make an appearance only to be promptly deposited to the dreaded, dry plastic vessel too tall from them to slither out.

snakeworms 2

Normally worms are considered a beneficial being in the soil, but not snake worms. They damage the soil by eating large amounts of organic matter and leaving behind their castings (poop) which resembles Grapenuts cereal, small granules of black matter. Their castings change the micro biome of the soil making plants less likely to survive. There are not legally allowed control measure for obnoxious invaders except for hand removal of them. There is some research work being done at the University of Vermont and more around the Great Lakes as the snake worms are having a very large detrimental effect on the forest floor in those areas. Crazy snake worm adults will die when the ground freezes, but they leave behind their eggs, called cocoons, which will survive the cold to hatch next spring.

The next critter that made an appearance was an earwig. My gardens have always had a lot of these brown decomposers of dead plant material, but occasionally I they will feed on live leaves, flowers and fruit. Normally they do very little harm, despite their fierce looking pinchers on their butt end. They use their forceps for defense and offense, and will pinch skin if you hold one in your hand. Earwigs overwinter in the adult stage, coming out of their dormant period in the spring to ensure their population continues yet another year.earwig 10-19

Grubs are the larval stage of beetles. There are many beetles which inhabit soil and above ground spaces. Most lays eggs in or on the soil, which hatch into grubs that feed on plant roots. Grubs in the lawn can cause significant damage, so do grubs in the vegetable garden when they feed on the roots of my vegetable plants. As a general rule, I squish grubs when I find them in my vegetable beds, even though some adult beetles may be considered beneficial by feeding on other pests. In my garden, the Asiatic garden beetle is the predominate one, causing lots of feeding damage on my leaf crops. They love basil, effectively stripping plants seemingly overnight.

The vibrations of my scraping the soil seemed to bring armies of squash bug nymphs and adults to surface where I was working and to adjacent areas yet to be disturbed. This was the squash bed and I expected the squash pests to be where the cucurbit crop was grown, but I didn’t anticipate the crowd that came to see why I was unearthing their winter abode. Only the adult stage is listed as overwintering, but I found many nymphs not yet developed to their mature adult stage. I hope the cold will kill them so I don’t have to squish many more.

squash bug adult 10-19

Adult Squash Bug

 

The final insect I found while digging wasn’t crawling or moving. It was the resting stage of a moth, which species, I do not know. It was the pupa without many identifying features. I have yet to find a book just on moth pupae, but I am still looking. Once I found the pupa of a tomato hornworm, identifying itself by the hookshaped ‘horn’ on the end of the pupal case. I wish I had taken a photo of that one!

pupa, moth 10-19

-Carol Quish

 

zinnias 10-19

 

In June I shared a visit to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, CT with you. Last week an outing took me to another beautiful garden site, Elizabeth Park, with three generations of ladies that included a dear friend, her mother, and my future daughter-in-law, Jamie. This was Jamie’s first encounter with Elizabeth Park as she is a recent transplant to the area from Long Island. It couldn’t have been a nicer day as the weather was warm but not hot with just enough cloud cover to allow us to walk about quite comfortably.

Elizabeth Park is of seven major parks that ring the city limits of Hartford, Connecticut and were created to benefit all of the citizens. Bushnell Park led the way in 1854 followed by Colt Park, Goodwin Park, Keeney Park, Pope Park, Riverside Park, and of course, Elizabeth Park by 1895. The lands for these parks were attained through purchase or bequest. Such is the case for Elizabeth Park which was bequeathed to the City of Hartford upon the death of Charles M. Pond in 1894. During his life, Charles Pond had acquired 90 acres that were bordered by Prospect Avenue on the east and Asylum Avenue on the north. His only request was that the park be named for his deceased wife Elizabeth who loved the flowers and many gardens around their vast estate. The site of the current rose garden was their nursery. Charles also left a very generous $100,000 fund for the ongoing care of the grounds, an amount roughly equal to $2.8 million today.

 

The original landscaping for Elizabeth Park was done by the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted as he had retired in 1895. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and John Charles Olmsted followed in their famous and prolific father’s design footprints. The park now encompasses 101.45 acres and includes 12 different gardens, 4 greenhouses, 2 gazebos, 2 bridges, and a pond among various other outbuildings, sports fields, tracks, and playgrounds.

Annual bed 2

The day of our visit we saw people strolling the grounds, bikers and runners on the paths and roads, and dog-walkers that included 2 Portuguese water dogs that were enjoying a cool swim in the pond! Our daughter attended one of the many weddings that take place in the Rose Garden each year and we have been to one of the fun outdoor concerts that are held during the summer.

full garden

But the big draw always remains the flowers. The Rose Garden was the first municipal rose garden in the United States and is the third largest with well over 15,000 roses in 475 beds. If you think that it’s difficult to take care of your flower beds then just imagine the number of hours that it takes to care for 2½ acres of roses! The day of our visit the gardeners were trimming the arbors that line the 8 paths to the main gazebo, known as the Rustic Summer House, as those roses bloom mid-June to late July. They actually remove the clips that hold the trailing vines on the arbors, unwind them, trim them, and reattach each one. It seems quite a laborious process but the gardeners just worked steadily and systematically.

It was impossible to take in all of the roses that were still in bloom, many of which will continue to bloom into the fall. Each new variety was as beautiful as the next as these images show.

But the roses aren’t the only beautiful blooms at Elizabeth Park. The Annual Garden is planted in early June as the 10,000 tulips that were planted in the fall die back. Those bulbs are pulled out as they don’t always re-bloom but in their place is a circular annual garden with crescent-shaped beds of plants that were started from seed in the greenhouses. Some of our favorites included the sunflowers, Helianthus annuus, cleome, Cleome, and heliotrope, Heliotropium.

And Zinnias! Lots and lots of zinnias!

Walking from the greenhouses past the Annual Garden you come to the Perennial Garden. In existence since 1914, the Perennial Garden is an herbaceous delight of 8 large beds bordered by Japanese yew. The Japanese anemones, Anemone hupehensis var. japonica, also known as thimbleweed, were standouts with their delicate pink blooms above the purple stems.

A summersweet bush, Clethra alnifolia, with its upright panicles of white and pink were very attractive to the dozens of pollinators that seemed to be everywhere, including on the hydrangea, Hydrangea paniculata, the coneflowers, Echinacea, and the blue shrimp plant, Cerinthe major.

Other beautiful areas include the Horticultural gardens where herb beds, oleander (Nerium oleander), and giant castor bean (Ricinus communis) plants grow side-by-side.

The Julian and Edith Eddy Rock Garden is a shady and peacefully contemplative area with the spicy anise aroma of agastache (Agastache foeniculum).

Closer to the pond are the Charlie Ortiz Hosta Garden and of course, the renowned Pond House. I always thought that it was thus named due to its proximity to the Laurel Pond, but no, it is named for the Ponds.

The area surrounding the Pond House is worth a visit in and of itself just to encounter the quirky surprises that are around each corner, such as the stone face planter that peeks out of a slightly ajar door and the gravity-defying terra-cotta planters. The Pond House has a working kitchen garden that is full of herbs and vegetables that are used by the café where we enjoyed a delicious and relaxed lunch that gave us the break that we needed to head out to the gardens once again.

As you can imagine, it takes a lot of work and money to sustain something as large as Elizabeth Park. In fact, in the 1970s, the City of Hartford had decided to plow the park under due to the expense of keeping it up. Fortunately, a group of volunteers formed the Friends of Elizabeth Park in 1977 and the Elizabeth Park Conservancy is still very instrumental in working with the City of Hartford to keep the park free and open to the public. If you are 18 years of age or older then you can volunteer to help in the maintenance of the park, just check out this link, Volunteer. Should you want to learn more about the history of Elizabeth Park there will be a free tour on Saturday, September 14th, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. starting at the flagpole outside of the green Cottage.

Susan Pelton

All images by S. Pelton, UConn, 2019

8 fritillaries on milkweed

Some milkweeds are still blooming. Look for butterflies, like these great spangled fritillaries , on the flowers

Taking a walk around the yard, garden and woods, we are never at a loss of finding interesting, and sometimes annoying, plants and insects. Below are a few favorite and fun things that we found last week.

wineberry upclose

Wineberries, Rubus phoenicolasius, are non-native plants with edible fruit.

Wineberry is native to China and Japan and is a relative of raspberry and blackberry. It was originally brought to this country in 1890 as breeding stock. Today it is classified as invasive due to its aggressive tendencies. https://www.massaudubon.org/learn/nature-wildlife/invasive-plants/wineberry

Tobacco hornworms shown above are actively feeding on tomato plants. If you find a stem of your tomato plant with few or no leaves, scout for this caterpillar. Remove and dispose of as you see fit.

Hibiscus border

This hibiscus border is colorful in August

Many plants can make a suitable border, as seen above on this property featuring a hibiscus border. Perennial hibiscus Hibiscus moscheutos is easy to grow and gives a tropical, colorful look in the summer.

Check undersides of squash leaves for the egg rafts of the squash bugs. If, found, you can crush or use the sticky side of tape to remove them from the leaf. Dispose of tape in the garbage.

red spotted purple on clethra alnifolia

Clethra alnifolia and red spotted purple butterfly

 CLethra alnifoilia is a native shrub often found on edges of ponds, streams or in other places where soils are wet. Flowers are very fragrant and attract many pollinators and butterflies.

 

juvenile red- tailed hawk on rock wall late summer

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

This juvenile red-tailed hawk has found an ideal spot on top of a stone wall to wait for prey like chipmunks, voles and squirrels. Young red-tails have blue eyes.

grapevine beetle 2019 Pamm Cooper photo

Grapevine beetle resting on a grape leaf

The grapevine beetle, Pelidnota punctata, is often found on or near wild or cultivated grape. The beetle is attracted to lights and is frequently found in swimming pools where lights are on for part of the night. Although it feeds on grape leaves, it is not considered a pest. Larvae feed on organic matter.

 

In the spirit of ” gung ho” (Gung ho!, motto (interpreted as meaning “work together”)  Carol Quish and  Pamm Cooper did this blog together

There are many historic garden sites in Connecticut which can be seen on the annual Connecticut Historic Gardens Day on Sunday, June 23rd, 2019 from 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m. From the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme to the Roseland Cottage in Woodstock there is one near you. Of the several that are located in Hartford County, one of particular note is the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center historic garden, home to the late author in the last 23 years of her life, located at Nook Farm on Forest Street in Hartford.

Harriet Beecher was born in 1811 in Litchfield, CT, the daughter of a prominent Congregational minister, the Reverend Lyman Beecher. Harriet married Calvin Ellis Stowe, an ardent anti-slavery proponent, in 1836 in Cincinnati, Ohio. While in Ohio, Harriet and her husband supported the Underground Railroad, actually housing several fugitive slaves temporarily in their home. Cincinnati is located on the northern side of the Ohio River, just opposite the then-slave state of Kentucky, making it a popular stop on the Underground Railroad. These circumstances led to Harriet writing the novel for which she is the most remembered, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852, although she wrote more than 10 other novels, a book of poetry, and many works of non-fiction.

Frontispiece engraving of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin (Boston John P. Jewett, 1853).Frontispiece engraving of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Boston John P. Jewett, 1853).

Do you remember that Uncle Tom was a man who kept a good garden with fruits, vegetables, begonias, roses, marigolds, petunias, and four-o’clocks? Here is an excerpt from the book: In front it had a neat garden-patch, where, every summer, strawberries, raspberries, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, flourished under careful tending. The whole front of it was covered by a large scarlet bignonia and a native multiflora rose, which, entwisting and interlacing, left scarce a vestige of the rough logs to be seen. Here, also, in summer, various brilliant annuals, such as marigolds, petunias, four-o’clocks, found an indulgent corner in which to unfold their splendors, and were the delight and pride of Aunt Chloe’s heart.

cabin Image by Charles Howland Hammatt Billings (1818-1874) for the expanded 1853 edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

In 1873, Harriet and her husband Calvin purchased and moved into a 5000 square foot painted brick Victorian Gothic ‘cottage’ at Nook Farm. Her fellow author, Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, moved in next door a year later. Harriet would spend the last 23 years of her life at Nook Farm. Also part of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center is the home owned by Harriet’s great-niece, Katharine Seymour Day.

ksd-house.jpg

Harriet was an enthusiastic flower gardener and her passion was shared by her great-niece. The gardens around the homes reflect their fondness for and knowledge of the plantings of the Victorian era. Nook Farm contains eight distinct gardens including the woodland garden, the blue cottage garden, the wildflower meadow, a high Victorian texture garden, antique rose garden with award winning roses, formal color-coordinated or monochromatic gardens, and more.

The site includes Connecticut’s largest Merrill magnolia tree, a specimen that towers over and dominates the landscape. It blooms in early spring and had unfortunately gone by when we were there in early June so that we missed its large, fragrant, white blooms. However, the Collections Manager at the Center was kind enough to send this great image of the tree in full bloom as well as one of the Stowe dogwood which had also already bloomed.

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Merrill Magnolia image courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT

The 100-year or older Harriet Beecher Stowe Dogwood™, Cornus Florida rubra, is believed to be from Stowe’s time, and saplings grown from cuttings are planted from Canada to Japan and even at Harriet’s home in Cincinnati.

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The Harriet Beecher Stowe Dogwood image courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT

In the Victorian era the dogwood symbolized endurance and sprigs were presented to unmarried women by male suitors to show interest. Should the woman return it to the suitor it meant that she was indifferent to him, if she kept it was a sign of mutual interest, the 19th century equivalent of “swiping right”.

It is fitting that these saplings are finding homes outside of Connecticut as Harriet was a proponent of trading plants with family and friends, bringing cuttings and seeds with her when she moved to a new home, and pressing blossoms into sketchbooks, a common practice during the Victoria era.

Pansies

Harriet’s gardens gave her ample opportunity to paint out of doors, a practice known as en plein air, with other local artists. Thematic and single-color gardens provided inspiration to artists then and they still do. Shade areas are filled in with hosta, Solomon’s seal, and meadow anemone, all in cool greens and whites.

Just a bit further down the walk are white-themed peonies, iris, rose, and bridal-wreath spirea.

Two plants are listed in the self-guided tour but were not in evidence as we strolled the grounds: the Elephant ears and the castor bean plants. Elephant ears have dramatic foliage that can measure up to 2 feet across can grow in sun if they get some afternoon cover or shade.

The castor bean, Ricinus communis, is a highly toxic annual herb and as such, may seem like an odd choice for a garden that receives so many visitors. Reaching a height of 8 feet, it can tower over every other annual in the garden with its reddish-purple stems, large, palmate, lobed leaves, and red, prickly fruit capsules. It is within these unusual fruits that the toxic part of the castor bean lies. The seeds contain ricin, a phytotoxalbumin which can cause a fatal reaction. In fact, the broken seeds can cause a severe allergic reaction just by coming into contact with the skin. After all of that you wouldn’t think that anyone would want a castor bean plant around but it is called an ornamental annual. And yet, once it has been heated during extraction, the toxicity is deactivated and the castor oil is used in a variety of coatings, lubricants, and medicines. The image below is by Dawn Pettinelli but is not from the Harriet Beecher Stowe gardens.Castor Bean SB07

Roses are in evidence throughout but it is the lined drive with its hedges of lovely fragrant roses that is just stunning.

Here is a video tour of the rose hedges:

The side garden of the Katharine Seymour Day house has a romantic Victorian garden that boasts peonies, roses, and moth mullein with its vintage dusty peach shades.

Behind the Day house are massive examples of mountain laurel, rhododendrons and a pawpaw tree. A National Champion tree, the common pawpaw, Asimina triloba, is a native deciduous tree that produces an edible fruit with a banana-like taste leading to it also being known as the West Virginia banana or the Custard apple.

As we walked around we could also see the home of Mark Twain and I couldn’t resist a peak at the conservatory, my favorite room there.

Should you choose to visit any of the gardens on the historic tour please visit their website: Connecticut Historic Gardens.

Susan Pelton. UConn Home & Garden Education Center

 

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